While I’m gratified to see the outpouring of support for Ukraine and its people on various social media channels, I realize how selective it is knowing that the US government and military have done the exact same thing. In a sense, Russia is taking a bloody page out of the US foreign policy playbook, which is replete with acts of subversion, destabilization, invasion, occupation, war, etc., all with the goal of regime change in countries that are perceived to be threats to US “national interests”.
Here are two comments I made in response to posts on LinkedIn, plus statements issued by the Fulbright Association and the Institute of International Education (IIE), two entities with which I have and had an affiliation.
About a statement issued by the School for International Training (SIT): I agree. I just wish US HE institutions would have the courage and integrity to speak out against the violent actions of their own country’s government and military, e.g., the invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq. Russia is following in the footsteps of the US in implementing regime change in countries it views as a threat to its “national interests.” (It’s a piker, in this respect, when compared to the US.) Do you recall SIT issuing such a statement in the spring of 2003?
About an article written by a well-known US journalist who is a LI connection that began thus: “Aggression, deception and subversion: Those are the hallmarks of Russian foreign policy under Vladimir Putin. And so it is today.” Sounds exactly like much of US foreign policy. Two peas in a pod. (I know the red, white, and blue nationalists reading this will be offended but it’s important to speak the truth.) Exhibit A. Here’s the op’s response: I take your point. No problem. And one from a Canadian colleague: It is as if no one working in media can remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. How much tolerance did the USA have for missiles on their door step? (As you may recall, or if you know your history, that crisis almost triggered WW III.)
Here’s a de rigueur statement issued by NAFSA: Association of International Educators: We share the world’s outrage over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and feel deeply for all who are caught in the crossfire and those with ties to the region. This is a shameful act of aggression, and our thoughts are with all who will be forced to bear the cost of this war with their lives and livelihoods.
This violence is in direct opposition to what NAFSA stands for: a peaceful, just, and globally connected world, and the improvement of democratic institutions. We will continue to advocate for affected international students and scholars, and we affirm the importance of international education as a force to foster understanding and respect among people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
And here’s a recent email, Fulbrighters Standing with Ukraine, sent by the Fulbright Association to US program alumni, including yours truly:
Dear Fulbrighters and Friends,
We share your dismay with the return of warfare to the European continent, breaking 75 years of peace. These are the same 75 years of the Fulbright Program, launched by Senator Fulbright to be an enduring force for peace through understanding. The tragic and violent attack on Ukraine is a moment of action, and a moment of reflection.
As we watch the images from Ukraine—children huddled in subways, destroyed buildings, and attacking helicopters—we must send resources where they are needed. I urge you to use this NPR article to find organizations such as the International Red Cross, Nova Ukraine, and Save the Children to receive your financial support today. Doctors without Borders, one of the recipients of the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding, is at work in Ukraine and deserves your help.
This is also a moment to reflect on our commitment to keep the Fulbright Program strong and relevant. When conflict erupts, we should ask if we could have done more, as citizen diplomats, to prevent it. We are not naïve. Peace is hard to build and maintain, and it can be destroyed easily by hatred, resentment, and autocratic leadership.
So what can we do? We can have faith that ordinary people like you and me can make a difference in most cases and in many places worldwide. We can continue to work as hard as we can to advocate, educate, and serve. When the world seems to have gone mad, as it has now, we can keep trying.
As a community, we condemn the attack on the Ukrainian people, and we deplore the loss of life and wanton destruction. We agree with President Jimmy Carter, another Fulbright Prize Laureate, who said today that the US and its allies “must stand with the people of Ukraine in support of their right to peace, security, and self-determination.”
Last but not least, here’s a Statement on the Crisis in Ukraine from the Institute of International Education (IIE), the same organization that killed an essay I had written about the Iraq invasion and war that was slated for publication in a major US regional newspaper: We are saddened to witness the violence occurring across Ukraine and join the world in mourning those affected. For over a century, IIE has worked to build a more peaceful, equitable world, and today we are as committed as ever to our mission of fostering mutual understanding. Peace is not a quick endeavor nor achieved unilaterally. Through a range of partnerships and programs such as the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund, IIE Artist Protection Fund, IIE Odyssey Scholarship, and the IIE Emergency Student Fund, we support those in crisis to access safety and continue their pursuit of education. (Full disclosure: I served as country director of IIE-Vietnam from 2005-09.) IIE’s statement is intentionally low-key and non-committal (note that “war” becomes “crisis”) because it has offices in Kyiv and Moscow.
I agree with each of the above statements. So, what’s the beef? The fact that I don’t recall seeing similar statements after the “shock and awe” US invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003. I find this selective outrage and sympathy to be the height of hypocrisy. It’s all about US(A), after all.
Other more practical factors include an unwillingness to call a spade a spade and criticize the US government because of “relationship” in the spirit of “don’t poke the (US State Department) bear” (NAFSA) or official funding (IIE, Fulbright).
Postscript: Another reason for this selective reaction is that it’s primarily white folks who are on the receiving end of state-sponsored violence this time.
Shalom (שלום), MAA